By Eliot Duke
Dunn Daily Record
Harnett County commissioners put a proposed one-time benefit to government employees on hold for the time being.
County Manager Paula Stewart on Tuesday said she had funds available to provide every county government employee a supplement for their hard work during the COVID-19 pandemic. Full-time and part-time government workers would receive a one-time payment of either $1,000 or $500, respectively.
Stewart said government workers included every county department such as the sheriff’s office, public utilities, finance and the tax department.
“My thing has always been you take care of your family,” Stewart said. “This is my work family, and to take care of my work family is very important. I’ve been hearing a lot of their needs, A lot of things have come up and I just want to know if we can do some kind of gesture to show our employees how much we care about them during this time that has been very stressful for everybody.”
Harnett County, Stewart said, hasn’t offered a cost-of-living increase since 2016 or conducted an overall pay study in four years. A recently implemented performance pay plan program gave employees the chance to earn an additional 1.5% of their annual salary, but Stewart called it “very minimal.”
“We’re still having a lot of turnover for jobs that pay more in other counties, other municipalities,” said Stewart. “I feel like our employees have really pulled together and hung in there during COVID-19.”
School Employee Supplement?
Commissioner Matt Nicol brought up Harnett County Schools employees and whether any of them would benefit from the supplement. Stewart said HCS is a state-funded agency and does not fall under her purview.
“It’s only Harnett County government employees that are paid for out of our general fund,” Stewart said. “We’re not required, by statute, to provide funding for those people. The school board and the superintendent would have to come to us and request that. I’m not saying you can’t do it, but I don’t have numbers for that. They’re not under my management.”
Chairman W. Brooks Matthews, who also serves as HCS deputy superintendent of auxiliary services, said he would like to see if the school system’s custodial and maintenance staff, which are funded with county dollars, could be included in Stewart’s proposal.
“Before we really get into looking at this I would like to see what would be involved for those custodians in the school system that were charged with going in and cleaning classrooms and spaces where positive COVID tests had arisen,” said Matthews. “They certainly were on the front lines. Our teachers assistants who drive buses every day were certainly on the front lines. I don’t see how we can talk about one group and not talk about the whole group.”
In October, the HCS Board of Education, like it has in previous years, passed its own $500 bonus for classified employees such as teacher aides, janitors, child nutrition staff and others.
Board of Education member Don Godfrey at the time advocated for HCS classified staff raises.
“It’s been so long since they had a decent pay raise, it’s pathetic,” Godfrey said in October. “I think something needs to be done for these people as hard as they work. They’re the backbone of our school system.”
Stewart said her proposal would cost approximately $1.1 million and reach around 1,200 county employees.